Tampa Bay’s legendary 2002 defense was loaded with star power from the likes of NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Simeon Rice up front, to cornerback Ronde Barber and strong safety John Lynch in the secondary. Yet it was free safety Dexter Jackson who was named Super Bowl XXXVII MVP after two first half interceptions that helped key a 48-21 win over the Oakland Raiders.
The unheralded Jackson is one of seven Super Bowl MVPs that never made a Pro Bowl – eight if you count Desmond Howard, who didn’t make the Pro Bowl as a kick returner years after being the Super Bowl XXXI MVP with Green Bay.
Redskins QB Doug Williams XXII Cowboys CB Larry Brown XXX Packers KR Desmond Howard XXXI Buccaneers FS Dexter Jackson XXXVII Patriots WR Deion Branch XXXVIII Steelers WR Santonio Holmes XLIII Ravens QB Joe Flacco XLVII Seahawks LB Malcolm Smith
That is such a small number of non-star players considering that there have been 55 Super Bowl MVPs (Cowboys defensive linemen Harvey Martin and Randy White were co-MVPs in Super Bowl XIII) over the last 54 years. Typically the Super Bowl MVP is a superstar player who is destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Quarterbacks have dominated the award, winning MVP honors 29 times, including four repeat winners – Tom Brady (4), Joe Montana (3), Terry Bradshaw (2) and Bart Starr (2).
So who might the dark horse Super Bowl MVP be for the Buccaneers should Tampa Bay beat defending champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LV? Who might be the next Dexter Jackson in Tampa Bay if it doesn’t go to a Bucs star player?
For this exercise all players that have made a Pro Bowl have been eliminated from this discussion. That includes Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin on offense, and outside linebackers Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaquil Barrett, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebacker Lavonte David on defense.
Here are five semi-star names to consider for the Super Bowl MVP should Tampa Bay beat Kansas City.
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CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
Why not Murphy-Bunting? With an interception against Washington, New Orleans and Green Bay in three straight weeks he’s already tied the Bucs’ career franchise record for postseason interceptions with Donnie Abraham, Dexter Jackson and Dwight Smith. Murphy-Bunting and Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed are the only players in NFL history with an interception in their first three postseason appearances.
A key interception, a clutch-pick six or two INTs could do it, especially since picking off Patrick Mahomes, who has only thrown six interceptions in 2020 and just 11 in the past two regular seasons. It’s rare for defensive backs to be named the Super Bowl MVP. In fact, it’s only happened three times in 54 years, but Murphy-Bunting is on a hot streak during the postseason.
ILB Devin White
White missed the first round of the playoffs due to COVID-19, but has made up for it in the last two rounds of the postseason. He had 11 tackles, a key fumble recovery and his first interception of the year against New Orleans to help knock off the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs. In last week’s win at Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, White had another big fumble recovery that led to a touchdown, in addition to a season-high 15 tackles.
White is the Bucs’ big-time playmaker on defense and he’s as hot as Murphy-Bunting is. A couple of sacks, a few takeaways – maybe a pick-six a la Derrick Brooks in Super Bowl XXXVII – along with 10 tackles or more could make White the first linebacker since Seattle’s Malcolm Smith to win the Super Bowl MVP, and just the second ever to accomplish that feat.
RB Leonard Fournette
Fournette has only started six games this year in Tampa Bay, including all three playoff games, but he’s been nearly as productive in January as he was during the regular season. Fournette rushed for 367 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 3.8 yards per carry in 13 games during the regular season while splitting time with the team’s leading rusher, Ronald Jones II. In the postseason, Fournette has rushed for 211 yards and two scores, while averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
Fournette has also caught 14 passes for 102 yards (7.3 avg.) and a TD, and has a touchdown – rushing or receiving – in all three playoff games as a result. Fournette would have to have a 100-yard rushing day and a game-winning touchdown or multiple TDs throughout the game in order to win the MVP, but Playoff Lenny is hot right now.
CB Carlton Davis III
Talk about a redemption story. How about Davis going from getting torched for over 200 yards and three touchdowns by Tyreek Hill in the first match-up in Week 12 to winning the Super Bowl MVP with a much better showing in the rematch? That’s storybook stuff.
Davis led the Bucs with four interceptions but those came in the first eight weeks of the season. He hasn’t had an INT since the win over the Giants game on Monday Night Football on November 2. It’s time for Davis to break his 11-game drought, and if he gets a pair of picks or a timely pick-six while helping to shut down Hill he might just take home the individual hardware from the Super Bowl.
WR Scotty Miller
Miller’s 39-yard touchdown catch right before halftime of the NFC Championship Game helped the Bucs build a 21-10 lead. While not as significant as Ronde Barber’s 92-yard pick-six in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, Miller’s big, diving grab is just as dramatic as Joe Jurevicius’ 71-yard catch-and-run against Philadelphia that day. And Miller gets extra credit for scoring.
It would take another dramatic touchdown like that – plus 100-yard receiving day – for Miller to take him the Super Bowl MVP honors, but this kid has a flair for the dramatic. He’s already said he’s faster than “The Cheetah” Tyreek Hill. Who knows? It could be Miller Time on the biggest stage of all come Sunday – but he will need a lot of touches and that might not happen if Antonio Brown plays.